On the Margins: Experimental Philosophy and Mathematics in Britain, 1790–1830

  • Elizabeth Garber


Experimental philosophers in Britain developed their own forms of theoretical physics during the same period as the Germans. In broad outlines, the processes through which these transformations occurred were the same. Socially experimental philosophy became a profession rather than an avocation; passage into the research community narrowed from self-education to formal, certified educational levels within the universities of Britain. Access to entry into the research communities was consequently constrained by these formal, educational gateways. Training became the modern apprenticeship of graduated courses, problems sets, and textbooks along with laboratory courses. Access narrowed to the social institutions of science that had appeared as open and serving many cultural, economic, and social purposes in the late eighteenth century. Their memberships and purposes became limited to the professional, research oriented physicist. The institutions that had been intellectually universal and geographically local became narrowly specialized and geographically national.


Nineteenth Century Royal Society Royal Institution Liberal Education Early Nineteenth Century 
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    James Challis, Notes on the Principles of Pure and Applied Calculation: and the Application of Mathematical Principles to Theories of Physical Force (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell and Co., 1869). Challis reduced gravity, heat and other forces of nature to mechanical pressure in a fluid ether. While analytically defensible, James Clerk Maxwell described Challis’ work as self-consistent mathematically, but physically indefensible. Challis’ fluids could not behave as ordinary fluids.Google Scholar
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    Whewell’s opinions on analysis and its place in the curriculum changed over time and in the context in which he was placed and the subject discussed. As his career at Cambridge developed his defense of geometry against the inroads of French analysis grew. For the arguments over the Cambridge curriculum and the meaning of a liberal education see, Martha McMackin Garland, Cambridge before Darwin: The Ideal of a Liberal Education, 1800–1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).Google Scholar
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    that of Whewell in Harvey Becher, “William Whewell and Cambridge Mathematics,” Hist. Stud. Phys. Sci. 11 (1980): 1–48.Google Scholar
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    For the development of British explorations of “foundational” issues in mathematics see, Elaine Koppelman, “The Calculus of Operations and Rise of Abstract Algebra,” Arch. Hist. Exact Sci. 8 (1971): 155–242MathSciNetMATHGoogle Scholar
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    Joan Richards, “The Art and Science of British Algebra: A Study in the Perception of Mathematical Truth,” Hist. Math. 1 (1980): 343–365MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
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    Helen Pycior, “George Peacock and the British Origins of Symbolical Algebra,” same journal 8 (1981): 23–45, “Early Criticism of the Symbolic Approach to Algebra,” same journal 9 (1982): 392–412, Joan Richards, “Rigor and Clarity: Foundations of Mathematics in France and England, 1800–1840,” Sci. Context 4 (1991): 297–319.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth Garber
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistorySUNY-Stony BrookStony BrookUSA

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